Memoirs Salon 16, Snaddlegate Rudder, continued

Memoirs Salon 16

Welcome to Memoir Salon, Session 16, an excerpt from Snaddlegate Rudder: Going Back to the Land, 1971–1985 by Kitty Axelson-Berry

Short bio (from the author): In 1971, my then-husband and I moved onto 23 acres of woods near Amherst, Massachusetts and tried to live simply. We sawed down trees and created a spot for a house, a garden, and a rough mile-long driveway. We built a cold, leaky geodesic dome using hand saws and chain saws, our own and friends’ labor, and about $2,500, living in a tent with our nine-month-old baby for the couple of months it took. The dome burned down a few years later and we rebuilt, this time with electricity, running water, and gas heaters in several rooms to supplement wood heat. Fifteen years later, I later became a newspaper reporter and editor, and subsequently founded Modern Memoirs, Inc. publishing service and the Association of Personal Historians.

Short description (from the author): This stream-of-consciousness memoir began with dictation to my daughter, a professional transcriptionist (Kirsten Transcribes), and was later expanded upon. It explores my experiences of being part of the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s, which we eventually gave up on to a large extent. We were adult children of privilege trying to raise a house, children, a marriage, and our own food. This is a continuation.

File 4 August 31, 2009. That winter, 1976, I had to get away—the cold weather, underprivilege poverty, and sullenness were overwhelming, so Jocie and I moved into Joan and Norman’s small apartment in Stuyvesantown, on 14th Street and Avenue D, and I helped Joan market The CB Slanguage Language Dictionary. I’d walk Jocie in her stroller past the drunks and addicts of 14th Street to and from the babysitter, and then every Friday night I’d drive with her up to North Leverett, then carry her up the driveway. When I opened the front door, it felt as if I was entering a house that had been empty of human warmth, cold and smelly. Kirsten’s hair would be matted and one time I found the guinea pigs, dead from starvation. I’d spend all day Saturday and most of Sunday cleaning and cooking, and read to Kirsten as much as possible, and then I’d abandon her. Every Sunday it near broke my heart and she grew increasingly downcast. At the time it seemed better than putting her in an inner-city kindergarten, but I was probably wrong.

I just want to go back to a moment in 1971, a sound, a scream, the scream of a child being attacked. We were alone in the tent, Kirsten and I, and I hugged her close, then opened the tent flap to see if somehow another baby had wandered over. Silence, all still. But the sound still haunts me….

Why were we doing this, you might ask. At the time, we felt that things were going to fall apart in the next twenty or thirty years and we wanted to be independent of the military–industrial complex and the system it thrived on. Inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing to live “the simple life,” we discovered belatedly that we were missing key ingredients such as money, knowledge, skills, love, a house, water, and arable land.

Anyway, getting back to food, not that it interests anyone but Okey and Sherri, I made a lot of corn fritters out of the corn I canned, doused with our own maple syrup, not from sugar maples but from woods maples so the ratio was eighteen parts sap to one part syrup instead of eight to one, not with evaporating pans but with saucepans on the woodstove. We would pick up our monthly allotment of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) surplus food, whatever the government was giving away, when we had some way to get to Greenfield and back. Usually it was two pounds of lard, eight pounds butter, a couple of huge boxes of American cheese, three pounds [sound of wind] of horrible powdered skim milk and powdered eggs, cans of stringy pig and cow meat, and some kind of ground-up meat to slice and fry. A far cry from my vegetarian days. White flour, corn syrup, cornmeal, mountains of sugar and noodles. Good peanut butter.

Other frequent chow was chili, cornbread, buckwheat pancakes, and homemade buckwheat bread, and olive and rosemary whole wheat bread—I’d grind the buckwheat groats and whole wheat berries. Sometimes I’d add ground-up eggshells from our chickens for calcium. Bread with eggshells had to be toasted or it felt there was sand in it. One Thanksgiving, my bread was sliced and served. Norman bit into a slice first—eyebrows went up. Every other face bit into the bread and did the same thing. Now it’s a favorite memory.

I combined the USDA items with back-to-nature organic food through our pre-order co-op. Our families thought we were stupid, crazy, and narcissistic for rejecting what they lived on, mostly desserts. Every week, a group of us would put a check mark next to the items we wanted. Then we’d pick it up at a prearranged time and place in town, which in winter meant getting home and walking up the icy driveway in the dark unless there was a full moon, carrying many pounds of fresh vegetables, dried fruits, grains (millet, cracked oats, whole wheat berries, rolled wheat), bean sprouts, cheese, eggs, peanut butter, soap.… Later, the co-op rented a storefront. (It was in the Alley and later became Yellow Sun Natural Foods, then a Mexican restaurant, a high-end restaurant/bar, then a natural foods market, and so on. It’s a restaurant/bar again.) That failed and the remnants moved to home deliveries by the organizers, who doubled as the town criers, sharing news and information.

In summer 1968, I had taken intensive Japanese at Harvard and become friendly with a macrobiotic commune. They were very certain of themselves and were horrified at how roly-poly and loud my baby nephew Greg was, accusing Lynn of feeding him milk, sugar, and meat, pointing out the sickly looking baby there who was being fed a strictly macrobiotic diet. “He is always calm and quiet, and never upset, because we only give him brown rice to eat.” That was the end of my excursion into extremism of any brand.

Joan and Norman were visiting us one time in the dome with baby Jonathan, and I served buckwheat pancakes with local maple syrup and USDA butter. “Would you like more pancakes?” I asked Norman, who said sure, so I went to work making another batch. Norman tells this story often and here’s what he says was involved:

1) bring in cordwood, split some kindling, build another fire in the woodstove

2) walk to the water hole a quarter of a mile away, chop through the ice with an ice pick—a sturdy hand-held tool with sharp teeth—scoop out the chunks of ice (a bare hand was better than a gloved one because it’s easier to dry off);

3) plunge empty milk bottles sideways into the water, releasing trapped air bubbles, then hold the jug under until they are nearly full;

3) strain out the snow fleas that appeared in March (we melted snow and icicles too, if it was heavy wet snow and clear icicles, and did our best to save water—and use very hot water for washing—rotating soapy water and rinse water)

4) get eggs from the chicken coop;

5) grind wheat berries and buckwheat groats into flour;

6) fuss with the woodstove to get a good temperature for cooking;

7) whisk the USDA powdered milk with water;

8) mix and cook.

Voila! It took an hour and a half. We all laughed and I realized that it would be OK to, at the least, buy flour. “I don’t have to grind the flour” became a mantra, and I got better at prioritizing, with help from The Handbook to Higher Consciousness by Ken Keyes, Jr. (Living Love Center, 1975), which taught me to distinguish between needs and wants. What do we need? What do we want? What do we choose?

***

 Modern Memoirs writes and preserves clients’ personal histories in high quality books, specializing in the as-told-to memoir genre in which the text is authentic and based entirely on the narrator’s own words. White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides full editorial and production services for self-publishing authors, especially poets and memoirists.

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MEMOIR SALON, Session 15

Welcome to Memoir Salon Session 15, which features an excerpt from Linda Stenlund’s West of Skellefteå

West of Skellefteå   by Linda Stenlund

Short bio from the author: Linda Stenlund enjoys writing memoir stories and traveling. Organic gardening, hiking and cross-country skiing are some of her favorite outdoor activities. She lives with her bi-cultural family in Western Massachusetts.

Short description from the author: This story is about discoveries and reflections on a light summer night, the culmination of a journey to Northern Sweden.

 *   *   *

West of Skellefteå

    It is midnight, and although my body is mellow from a long swim at Boviken Beach on the Baltic Sea and my mind is weary from speaking Swedish all day with relatives, I am still awake. Here in the tiny village of Forsbacka—west of Skellefteå, in Northern Sweden, where my husband was raised—the sun never sets in early summer. It is light all night. I am intrigued by the soft, pale blue-gray sky glowing silently behind the stands of tall, dark green fir trees. There is something magical about the clear light with a hint of translucent blue that illuminates everything outside as far as my eyes can see.

At bedtime, we purposefully pull down the window shades that block out the light, just like all Swedes do in July. But there is the littlest crack of light that creeps past the narrow gap between the window sash and window shade. I am drawn to the midnight light like a moth that makes its appearance just about this time of night. Tiptoeing out of the bedroom, where my husband is already asleep, I pull on a fleece jacket and sneakers and creep out the front door.

After the heat of the day when we walked barefoot in the sand and across the soft grass, there is now a sharp chill in the air. It feels like living in two seasons at once; all day the sun shone brightly. We sat on the back deck eating lunch with our cousins and then took group photos by their little pond and flower gardens. By evening, we were cold in our shorts and pulled on extra clothes stashed in the back of our rental car. Stopping by the cemetery to visit the graves of parents, grandparents and great-uncles, we wore long pants and jackets. It felt like a cold fall evening then, fitting as we walked together and read the headstones we had not visited for many years.

My shoes are wet with the dew as I sneak away from the little red cabin with white painted trim, perched on a hill and surrounded by a small clearing in the woods. My sons, in their twenties now, are still awake too. I can hear them talking in low voices through a slightly open window in their room. The window shades don’t fool them either. We are southerners in comparison to the natives here. We didn’t grow up with this timeless summer light, midnight and beyond.

I continue walking down the grassy path, out of earshot of my grown offspring, towards the river. It is dark moss green in the clear illumination and as wide as the Connecticut River. Only it is not called a river, even in translation. It is called an älv, the Nordic name for a river.

Last night, after dinner, my son Daniel and I swam in the cold Skellefteå Älv, in the clean dark water. No one else in the family or neighboring cottages would join us. They lacked the sense of adventure or foolishness to brave the coldness and fluctuating current of the river. First, Daniel and I crawled across the slippery rocks by the shore, along a stand of wild daisies and bluebells growing at the water’s edge. Then we ventured out into the deeper water, heading for a group of boulders a short ways upstream. We stayed within shouting distance of the shore, where the others stood watching, keeping away from the brisk current in the middle of the river—lest we be swept downstream, east towards the town of Skellefteå. The water was cold, but exhilarating. After a minute, we agreed that our skin was sufficiently numb allowing us to stay in the river long enough to make it to the boulders and back. As I swam the breaststroke towards the rocks, I marveled at my good fortune of having a son who would swim with me under such hearty conditions and that he had even been the one to suggest it.

I was thankful that I didn’t know then what I learned from a local resident later the same evening. The neighbor man explained, gesturing with his hands, how the ice had been so thick and forceful on the älv last winter that it had broken the massive boulder into smaller, multiple stone pieces. Since it occurred during mid-winter, when it was dark all day and all night, no one realized it had happened until early spring when the light returned. He said that the big rocks that we had swum out to had been one giant boulder last year, a local landmark for many generations. The image stayed in my mind like a message from the dark winter, as I thought about our recent swim towards those very same rocks. The summer was short and celebrated here in the North Country, while the memory of winter was never very far away.

By now, I realize I have been walking along the packed dirt path by the river for over an hour. There are large patches of wild strawberries, called smultron, along the path and I stop to pick the ripe red ones. They are tiny and sweet but tart. A taste that is hard to describe; like wild renegade forbearers of the domestic strawberry. Small and intense with crunchy seeds like raspberries. An old Swedish children’s saying goes like this: It isn’t really summer until you’ve threaded smultron berries on a hay straw (to eat them).

A large white-tailed hare crosses my path. Like me, he is slightly dazed; it is the middle of the night. The birds are quiet, sleeping in trees. I am impressed that they manage to keep a regular schedule of waking and sleeping despite the twenty-four-hour light. There is no wind tonight and the stillness over the countryside is profound. Time stands still now. The red clover, which has been there all along my walk, leans slightly into the path and brushes against my pants. I spot wild, deep blue delphinium growing on a hillside and many great stands of lavender-colored lupines, their proud spikes standing erect in the soft light. I see jagged white ripples of current in the middle of the dark water on the Skellefteå Älv. It is so quiet, I can hear my own breathing in the midst of the living, calm nature. I know I should go back, crawl under the soft feather quilt and lie down in the darkened cottage where my family is sleeping.

But something pulls me silently by my sleeve and I continue past other cabins and summer abodes along the narrow, grassy dirt path by the river. The tall white birches are regal in their beauty, standing together in groups and informal rows. Here they are called “glass birches” because their pale, peeling bark has a clarity to it, a translucent loveliness, and I understand why Swedes that moved away from here in the 1880s longed for them and spoke about them. That upon arriving in the new land of America, the Scandinavian immigrants searched for this type of birch forest, which included rivers and lakes, until they finally found them in Minnesota. Then they settled there because of them, despite the fierce, life-threatening winters.

It is my last night here before we travel fifteen hours by train south to Stockholm. There are so many impressions that capture me in the wee hours of the morning: the steep slant of the roofs which keeps the snow from piling up too deeply, the reserved heartiness of the people who live here year round, and the lacey leaves of the Mountain Ash trees which will produce big clusters of bright orange berries come autumn. I notice the white fluffy blossoms of tall wild Astilbe and Queen Anne’s lace, and long green blades of soft meadow grass. I take note of how the current has picked up even more in the wide river, clearly swifter than last night, and I am relieved that my son and I are not out there now, swimming against that current towards the boulders so recently cracked and divided by last winter’s ice.

Then abruptly, I feel tired and say out loud, “goodnight” to all the nature around me and to the illuminated sky. Reversing direction, I calculate the quickest way along the path leading back to the little red cabin and my awaiting bed. Back on the porch, just before opening the cabin door, I turn around and let myself feel the embrace of the summer night one last time. Then I whisper into the light air:

“I’ll be back again, someday, I promise.”

*    *     *

To send an excerpt from your own memoir, go to:
https://publishmemoir.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/to-send-us-an-excerpt-from-your-memoir/

     White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides complete editorial and book, e-book production services for self-publishing authors.

Modern Memoirs writes and preserves clients’ memoirs and family histories in high quality books, specializing in full-length as-told-to narratives.

One of the oldest personal memoir-assistance service in business, Modern Memoirs writes and preserves clients’ personal histories in high quality books, specializing in the as-told-to memoir genre in which the text is authentic and based entirely on the narrator’s own words. White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides full editorial and production services for self-publishing authors, especially poets and memoirists.

Posted in Books, philosophical musings, Query for writers, Self-publish, design and formatting, Self-publish, distribution, Self-publish, e-books, e-pub, Self-publish, editing and proofreading, Self-publish, printing and binding, Self-publish, write a memoir, Self-publish, writing, Technology, Uncategorized, Writing a memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MEMOIR SALON, Session 15

Welcome to Memoir Salon Session 15, which features an excerpt from Linda Stenlund’s West of Skellefteå

Short bio from the author: Linda Stenlund enjoys writing memoir stories and traveling. Organic gardening, hiking and cross-country skiing are some of her favorite outdoor activities. She lives with her bi-cultural family in Western Massachusetts.

Short description from the author: This story is about discoveries and reflections on a light summer night, the culmination of a journey to Northern Sweden.

*   *   *

West of Skellefteå by Linda Stenlund

            It is midnight, and although my body is mellow from a long swim at Boviken Beach on the Baltic Sea and my mind is weary from speaking Swedish all day with relatives, I am still awake. Here in the tiny village of Forsbacka—west of Skellefteå, in Northern Sweden, where my husband was raised—the sun never sets in early summer. It is light all night. I am intrigued by the soft, pale blue-gray sky glowing silently behind the stands of tall, dark green fir trees. There is something magical about the clear light with a hint of translucent blue that illuminates everything outside as far as my eyes can see.

            At bedtime, we purposefully pull down the window shades that block out the light, just like all Swedes do in July. But there is the littlest crack of light that creeps past the narrow gap between the window sash and window shade. I am drawn to the midnight light like a moth that makes its appearance just about this time of night. Tiptoeing out of the bedroom, where my husband is already asleep, I pull on a fleece jacket and sneakers and creep out the front door.

           After the heat of the day when we walked barefoot in the sand and across the soft grass, there is now a sharp chill in the air. It feels like living in two seasons at once; all day the sun shone brightly. We sat on the back deck eating lunch with our cousins and then took group photos by their little pond and flower gardens. By evening, we were cold in our shorts and pulled on extra clothes stashed in the back of our rental car. Stopping by the cemetery to visit the graves of parents, grandparents and great-uncles, we wore long pants and jackets. It felt like a cold fall evening then, fitting as we walked together and read the headstones we had not visited for many years.

            My shoes are wet with the dew as I sneak away from the little red cabin with white painted trim, perched on a hill and surrounded by a small clearing in the woods. My sons, in their twenties now, are still awake too. I can hear them talking in low voices through a slightly open window in their room. The window shades don’t fool them either. We are southerners in comparison to the natives here. We didn’t grow up with this timeless summer light, midnight and beyond.

            I continue walking down the grassy path, out of earshot of my grown offspring, towards the river. It is dark moss green in the clear illumination and as wide as the Connecticut River. Only it is not called a river, even in translation. It is called an älv, the Nordic name for a river.

            Last night, after dinner, my son Daniel and I swam in the cold Skellefteå Älv, in the clean dark water. No one else in the family or neighboring cottages would join us. They lacked the sense of adventure or foolishness to brave the coldness and fluctuating current of the river. First, Daniel and I crawled across the slippery rocks by the shore, along a stand of wild daisies and bluebells growing at the water’s edge. Then we ventured out into the deeper water, heading for a group of boulders a short ways upstream. We stayed within shouting distance of the shore, where the others stood watching, keeping away from the brisk current in the middle of the river—lest we be swept downstream, east towards the town of Skellefteå. The water was cold, but exhilarating. After a minute, we agreed that our skin was sufficiently numb allowing us to stay in the river long enough to make it to the boulders and back. As I swam the breaststroke towards the rocks, I marveled at my good fortune of having a son who would swim with me under such hearty conditions and that he had even been the one to suggest it.

            I was thankful that I didn’t know then what I learned from a local resident later the same evening. The neighbor man explained, gesturing with his hands, how the ice had been so thick and forceful on the älv last winter that it had broken the massive boulder into smaller, multiple stone pieces. Since it occurred during mid-winter, when it was dark all day and all night, no one realized it had happened until early spring when the light returned. He said that the big rocks that we had swum out to had been one giant boulder last year, a local landmark for many generations. The image stayed in my mind like a message from the dark winter, as I thought about our recent swim towards those very same rocks. The summer was short and celebrated here in the North Country, while the memory of winter was never very far away.

            By now, I realize I have been walking along the packed dirt path by the river for over an hour. There are large patches of wild strawberries, called smultron, along the path and I stop to pick the ripe red ones. They are tiny and sweet but tart. A taste that is hard to describe; like wild renegade forbearers of the domestic strawberry. Small and intense with crunchy seeds like raspberries. An old Swedish children’s saying goes like this: It isn’t really summer until you’ve threaded smultron berries on a hay straw (to eat them).

            A large white-tailed hare crosses my path. Like me, he is slightly dazed; it is the middle of the night. The birds are quiet, sleeping in trees. I am impressed that they manage to keep a regular schedule of waking and sleeping despite the twenty-four-hour light. There is no wind tonight and the stillness over the countryside is profound. Time stands still now. The red clover, which has been there all along my walk, leans slightly into the path and brushes against my pants. I spot wild, deep blue delphinium growing on a hillside and many great stands of lavender-colored lupines, their proud spikes standing erect in the soft light. I see jagged white ripples of current in the middle of the dark water on the Skellefteå Älv. It is so quiet, I can hear my own breathing in the midst of the living, calm nature. I know I should go back, crawl under the soft feather quilt and lie down in the darkened cottage where my family is sleeping.

            But something pulls me silently by my sleeve and I continue past other cabins and summer abodes along the narrow, grassy dirt path by the river. The tall white birches are regal in their beauty, standing together in groups and informal rows. Here they are called “glass birches” because their pale, peeling bark has a clarity to it, a translucent loveliness, and I understand why Swedes that moved away from here in the 1880s longed for them and spoke about them. That upon arriving in the new land of America, the Scandinavian immigrants searched for this type of birch forest, which included rivers and lakes, until they finally found them in Minnesota. Then they settled there because of them, despite the fierce, life-threatening winters.

            It is my last night here before we travel fifteen hours by train south to Stockholm. There are so many impressions that capture me in the wee hours of the morning: the steep slant of the roofs which keeps the snow from piling up too deeply, the reserved heartiness of the people who live here year round, and the lacey leaves of the Mountain Ash trees which will produce big clusters of bright orange berries come autumn. I notice the white fluffy blossoms of tall wild Astilbe and Queen Anne’s lace, and long green blades of soft meadow grass. I take note of how the current has picked up even more in the wide river, clearly swifter than last night, and I am relieved that my son and I are not out there now, swimming against that current towards the boulders so recently cracked and divided by last winter’s ice.

            Then abruptly, I feel tired and say out loud, “goodnight” to all the nature around me and to the illuminated sky. Reversing direction, I calculate the quickest way along the path leading back to the little red cabin and my awaiting bed. Back on the porch, just before opening the cabin door, I turn around and let myself feel the embrace of the summer night one last time. Then I whisper into the light air:

           “I’ll be back again, someday, I promise.”

 *   *   *

To send an excerpt from your own memoir, go to:
https://publishmemoir.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/to-send-us-an-excerpt-from-your-memoir/

     White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides complete editorial and book, e-book production services for self-publishing authors.

     Modern Memoirs writes and preserves clients’ memoirs and family histories in high quality books, specializing in full-length as-told-to narratives.

One of the oldest personal memoir-assistance service in business, Modern Memoirs, Inc. writes and preserves clients’ personal histories in high quality books, specializing in the as-told-to memoir genre in which the text is authentic and based entirely on the narrator’s own words.

White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides full editorial and production services for self-publishing authors, especially poets and memoirists.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MEMOIR SALON, Session 14

Welcome to Memoir Salon, Session 14, which features a short story by Jennifer Atkins.

Short bio:  Jennifer (Jenny) Atkins is a writer, a biologist, and raises angora rabbits, among many other things. Thus she is a spinner—a spinner of tales, cells, and skeins of fluffy angora hair. Feel free to visit her blog of spinning, knitting, and photos at http://twistedmysteries.blogspot.com

Short description: This memoir/short story describes a small child’s view of the large woman who comes to clean her house each week.

*   *   *

Cleaning Lady

When I and my older sisters were little, my mother, who had grown up with a cook, maid, chauffeur, gardener and nurse, had none of these. All she had was a Cleaning Lady. When we were even younger and there was a succession of babies in the family, my mother found college girls to come in and watch the babies while the grown-ups, my parents, had their dinner. But we moved away from the college, and were apparently old enough to join in the family dinner, so now there was only the Cleaning Lady.

How one goes about hiring a Cleaning Lady, or for that matter a cook, maid, chauffeur, gardener or nurse I have no idea, since the most I’ve ever had to do is find someone to repair our roof. I would guess that a lot depends on hiring the person your sister uses, or someone recommended by a friend from church. Our Cleaning Lady also doubled as my babysitter so that my mother could go shopping and do her various errands while my older sisters were in school.

I never liked the Cleaning Lady, who was fat and sounded different from my family. She had a grandson just my age and she was sure that if we met we would be best friends. I was sure we would not. She was loud and her favorite phrase was “Spic & Span & Sunshine Bright!” She seemed to delight in telling me, with her loud, unfamiliar accent, that everything was “Spic & Span & Sunshine Bright!” I mostly did what I could to avoid her with her loud vacuum cleaner and buckets of sloppy soapy water. It usually meant playing by myself while I waited for my mother or sisters to get home.

One day I was downstairs in my room playing by myself with my paper dolls, the special French ones my Grandmother had sent to me, when I heard a strange noise coming from upstairs. It sounded like my name being called, but very low and heavy, like a moan. Mommy was out, as usual, gone shopping, and I was home with the Cleaning Lady. My room was far away from upstairs, way at the end of the hall, so I had to go down the hall past my sisters’ empty rooms, past the playroom and workshop, then up the stairs very slowly.

I could hear the vacuum cleaner going upstairs, and above it I could hear that moan, “Oohhhhh,” a very scary sound. Both sounds come from the dining room, so I stood at the door frame and peeked in. There was the vacuum cleaner with the hose and sucker part on the floor. The table was pulled out of place and there was the Cleaning Lady, under the table. She didn’t get up; she just lay there and groaned again. She said my name, “Jenny….” I didn’t know what to do, so hugging the wall, I went to the nearest chair and sat down.

I sat for the longest time, just waiting, while the vacuum cleaner ran, and the Cleaning Lady lay there and moaned. Finally, finally, Mommy came home with a great stomping of boots and rustling of bags. She was very surprised and in a big flurry to see the table out of place and the Cleaning Lady on the floor and the vacuum cleaner running. She turned off the vacuum, and helped the Cleaning Lady and called the Doctor and the Doctor came and he helped the Cleaning Lady and finally they put the table back and the vacuum cleaner away.

Later, Mommy and Daddy were both there and they were telling me that I should always dial “O” for Operator if something bad happened, and would I remember that? My sisters were there listening and I knew I must have done something bad, but I wasn’t sure what. I said I would always remember to dial “O” for Operator.

It was days later that the Cleaning Lady came back. Mommy was home, thank goodness, and I didn’t want to see the Cleaning Lady. I hid in the kitchen, but then she called me, “Jenny.”

I peeked over at the door.

“Look at this,” she said. “I want to show you something.” And then she lifted her heavy skirt to show me a huge dark bruise on her thigh, all purple and blue. “See what I got when I fell.” She laughed a big hoarse laugh and I ran away back into the kitchen.

What I didn’t know, and didn’t find out until years later, was that for a long time my parents had noticed that liquor was disappearing from the liquor cabinet. Good help is hard to get, and once gotten, no one wants to go through the ordeal of finding someone new. And someone who will clean and watch your four-year-old must be harder to find, and more important, to hold onto, even at the expense of a little bourbon. Still, I never saw that Cleaning Lady again, and in fact, we never did have another one.

 *   *   *

To send an excerpt from your own memoir, go to:
https://publishmemoir.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/to-send-us-an-excerpt-from-your-memoir/

   White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides complete editorial and book, e-book production services for self-publishing authors.

Modern Memoirs, Inc. writes and preserves clients’ memoirs and family histories in high quality books, specializing in full-length as-told-to narratives.

Posted in Query for writers, Self-publish, design and formatting, Self-publish, e-books, e-pub, Self-publish, editing and proofreading, Self-publish, printing and binding, Self-publish, write a memoir, Self-publish, writing, Uncategorized, Writing a memoir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MEMOIR SALON, Session 13

Welcome to Memoir Salon, Session 13, featuring an excerpt from Snaddlegate Rudder: Going Back to the Land, 1971–1985

 

Snaddlegate Rudder: Going Back to the Land, 1971–1985

by Kitty Axelson-Berry

 

Short bio from the author: In 1971, my then-husband and I moved onto 23 acres of woods near Amherst, Massachusetts and tried to live simply. We sawed down trees and created a spot for a house, a garden, and a rough mile-long driveway. We built a cold, leaky geodesic dome using hand saws and chainsaws, using our own and friends’ labor, spending about $2,500 altogether. Our first daughter was nine months old at the time and we lived in a tent. The dome burned down a few years later when I was pregnant with our second daughter, and we rebuilt, this time a warmer house with the added virtues of electricity, running water, and four gas-powered room heaters to supplement the wood heat. I later became a newspaper reporter and editor, then founded Modern Memoirs, Inc.,  and the Association of Personal Historians.

Short description from the author: This stream-of-consciousness memoir, dictated to my oldest daughter and then expanded upon, explores some of the graces and mistakes of going back-to-the-land in the 1970s. We were adult children of privilege trying to raise a house, two children, a marriage, and our own food. This is a continuation.

 

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Why We Were So Stupid… and What We Ate (continued)

What a mess we were, first-time parents, first-time farmers, first-time builders. Had Jerry learned some farming, maybe construction, too, at one of his prep schools in Colorado and Vermont? Or during his family’s cross-country and Alaskan camping trips? First-time adults. He at twenty-four, a father, rock-and-roll band “manager” or was it supplier, I at twenty-one a new mother with no skills, experience, muscles, or money, which left me with mostly resentment, trying to turn ourselves around from the comforts and blinders of the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called Greatest Generation.

Perhaps instead of trying to build a house and raise our own food, we should have bought a house and raised our own food. Dozens of deteriorating farmhouses were for sale for the equivalent of a beginning high school teacher’s salary, with barns, well-water, streams, fields, and vistas (and difficult to heat). Again, this was 1971, small is beautiful, grow-your-own-food, get off the grid, don’t spread poison, don’t support the military-industrial complex, don’t have many needs, don’t have needs that cost money.

We were babies in the woods. First we cleared the land and a half-mile-long driveway with a chainsaw that only Jerry could start up and use. The pull-cord was impossible for me to yank, and I spent my time, in-between nursing and getting water etc., lopping small branches from already-fallen trees with an ax or a lopper and hauling them around, making piles for later burns, and bringing cordwood closer to a wheelbarrow and eventually the shed.

I was a waitress at the Lamplighter Steak and Seafood Restaurant, the place with a two-story milk bottle out by the road, and I had to look clean, bathing in local streams with a wary eye for wandering fishermen; Kristie was nine months old. Would I have cut big trees if I’d had more muscle and time and was right-handed? Not likely. Even a thin tree, ten inches diameter, grows very tall if it’s in the woods and can’t find sun. And when trees go down, they fall on other trees, and you’re balancing precariously on a tangle of branches, maybe some bees, a snake now and then, trying to get through both of them.

We weren’t strong enough for the work, we women. One afternoon in about 1976, with maybe four feet of snow topped by three inches of glare ice, we were exceedingly cold indoors, with the house insulated by undershirts and a few newspapers. It was Denise, who lived in one of the cabins built on the Hill by friends, and Lana, who was an apprentice stone-mason, and me. Jerry and the boys were out of town traveling with the rock band or something, mostly hanging out and making new friends, and we had run out of wood, not even green wood to burn. The closest down-tree that we could get to was a good-sized hemlock near the driveway split, going straight ahead to Vinny’s and left down the hill. We all burned a lot of hemlock and pine, and we all had a lot of chimney fires. Later, we pushed potato peels into the fire to loosen the creosote and help it break away, come down in chunks from the stovepipe.

We were trying to saw the tree trunk up for firewood but the chainsaw kept stalling and then we couldn’t get it started. So we got out the two-man crosscut saw. But we couldn’t get any leverage in that tight space and didn’t have the arm strength anyway. I’d left the kids alone in the house and knew they were probably fighting with each other by now. It was starting to get dark but we still had no wood at all to burn. We realized we could not do it and burst into tears, all three of us, bleeding tears that of course froze on their way down our faces.

Back to the topic at hand, food.

OK, the garden. The first summer, we used a chainsaw to clear the driveway, six-tenths of a curving hilly mile, and land for the house, garden, and future orchard, and we built the dome, and we started bringing and dumping soil and manure. There were about ten of us camping out. The driveway was undriveable between October and June (too wet or too much snow) so we were carrying everything like kids, food, laundry, tools, and lumber on our backs.

We did the world’s worst job of growing our own, despite hard work and sincerity. The soil was not only heavy with clay but belched rocks, and there was no water for about a mile. We filled five-gallon containers from Len and Missy’s at the bottom of the hill or at any of the local post offices, Leverett or Montague, and Jerry drove them up in the Scout when he could. Females supposedly weren’t strong enough to move the bolts on the wheels to put it into four-wheel drive. When he wasn’t around or the driveway was undriveable, I filled one-gallon plastic milk containers and walked two or four of them hanging from a broomstick for a yoke, stooped over because Kristie was also there on my back, in a backpack. We never watered the garden because there was no water. And we didn’t know enough to start the seeds in a cold frame. We put them right into the ground, which meant they didn’t have a good start or a sufficient growing season.

We did end up with a few vegetables, mostly oversized zucchini. Zucchini are best at about an inch wide, eight inches long. Ours were the diameter of a canning jar, about five inches wide, cut into thick slabs. The first summer of the garden I canned about four dozen jars of this zucchini. It was like a dishwater, leather, and wood medley. The flesh itself had turned into watery greyness, the dark green skin was an approximation of leather, the seeds were close to wood. I made soup. Watery, tasteless. Fortunately, the dome froze often at night, even when we stoked all four stoves, and at least a quarter of the jars broke. I’d pick up a jar of zucchini (or tomatoes, string beans, applesauce, or worse yet, grape jelly) and it would break into a mess of food and glass on the floor and countertop, usually down my legs too. Did I get all of the shards out of the jam? Off the floor? Worrisome! I tried not to serve glass shards with the bread, butter, and jelly. And I tried to get all the glass off the floor, using wet rags because paper towels were too expensive, and cleaning the rags by hand. But those shards tended to get stuck in the spaces between plywood sheets, which meant we had to walk with care.

Anyway, during the summer I’d hear Jerry whooping up the driveway in the Scout and then he and his “buddies” would haul giant garbage bags filled with ears of corn for me to shuck and can right away, before the sugars converted to starch. Surprise! I felt like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, the female version of Sisyphus. And it was hot, too, when the corn, zucchini, tomatoes are harvested. Canning on a woodstove in a geodesic dome without window openings or insulation is like being in a greenhouse in Las Vegas. Add mosquitoes.

Anyway, Jerry would come roaring in, dragging heavy garbage bags filled with corn, string beans, or grapes, or with joint-compound buckets filled with tomatoes. “I brought you a present!” Then he’d sit down, pop a beer, smoke a bone, pass out. I began to develop ulcerative colitis then, if not before.

I hope it’s OK to share all this with you. Maybe it isn’t…

* * *

      To send an excerpt from your own memoir, go to:
https://publishmemoir.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/to-send-us-an-excerpt-from-your-memoir/

     White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides complete editorial and book, e-book production services for self-publishing authors.

Modern Memoirs, Inc. writes and preserves clients’ memoirs and family histories in high quality books, specializing in full-length as-told-to narratives.

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MEMOIR SALON SESSION 12

Welcome to Memoir Salon, Session 12, which features an excerpt from Healing in the Storms, a memoir by Julie DeGon about her life as a twin, a widow, and a mother bereft of her child.

Healing in the Storms  by Julie DeGon

Short bio from the author: Northwest author Julie DeGon, born a twin, grew to be a single woman, a wife and mother, a widow and single mother, and a bereaved mother.

Short description from the author: What happens when a young woman finds herself raising her child alone after six short years of wedded bliss to her husband, the love of her life? What happens when the son she so bravely and tenderly raised is lost to a tragic car accident just seventeen years later? Julie DeGon takes you on her stormy journey.

***

Prologue

Jeff and I were born on September 27, 1961. Jeff weighed 5lbs. 3oz. I weighed 2lbs. 10oz. Mom was sick during her pregnancy, but we were both full-term babies. Jeff came home from the hospital after five days. I stayed in the hospital for three months. I was in an incubator. With me being in the hospital for so long, this became a hardship on my parents. Mom and Dad had to pay so much money for my hospital bills and food; it was hard to make ends meet.

One day, Dad didn’t have the money to pay my hospital bill; the doctor’s office gave Dad twenty-four hours to get me out of the hospital. Mom took me to the Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. I am blessed with having been in the incubator because I did not become blind or deaf or have other disabilities to have to deal with.

Growing Up a Twin (The Twin Thing)

I have one of the best brothers one could ask for. Jeff and I are twins. We were born seven minutes apart (a twin will tell you how many minutes apart they are – some twins will go so far as to say for seven minutes they had it made).

People used to ask me, “What is it like to be a twin?” Some of these people would even answer for me, “You always have someone to talk to, you have someone to play with, and you have someone to help you with your chores.” (Well, until one of us wore out his or her welcome.) Some people will say that if one twin gets sick, then the other will have the same illness. Or, “If her car breaks down, the other twin should watch out, this will happen to you also.”

I always thought this was funny. People refer to it as “the twin thing.” What people need to realize is if one twin is good at a sport, then maybe the other twin is good in math. Just because one twin won the basketball championship doesn’t mean the other twin is expected to do the same thing.

Twins are individuals with their own talents, gifting, desires, and independence.

I know people probably didn’t mean to compare us, but it happens. What people don’t realize is it is very hurtful. I wonder if Mom and Dad ever felt like they were seeing double with two sets of everything. I do know and I have seen plenty of pictures of this event: Jeff was in the playpen and I was outside the playpen on the floor. (Something about our fighting all the time.)

Jeff and I were the only set of twins born on either side of the family in forty years.

Mom was surprised after Jeff was born; I came kicking out seven minutes later. Dad said that by the time he had Mom signed into the hospital, Jeff was already born. I think the nurse came out and told Dad, “It’s a boy,” and then the same nurse came out and told him, “It’s a girl.” I think Dad said, “What?”

Jeff and I grew up on a ranch on California. We participated in the 4-H Club. We raised rabbits and sheep. When Jeff and I bought our lambs, Jeff wanted to name them Bonnie and Clyde – I didn’t like sound of those names (wonder why) so I named my lamb Sunflower. Sunflower won Grand Champion in the fair that year, while Jeff sold his lamb at market at the fair.

The next year, Sunflower gave birth to twins. The newspaper came out and wrote an article. The article was titled “Twins for the Twins.” Sunflower had three more sets of twins, and all of her babies were Grand Champions.

When Jeff and I had graduated high school, we moved to Idaho because Dad was sick with cancer. Dad needed to be in a drier climate. Jeff had culture shock moving to a small town and he enlisted into the Marines right away. This was the first time Jeff and I had been separated; this time was a difficult time for me not seeing Jeff everyday.

Some twins are fortunate to live in the same town. Others, like Jeff and me, live miles apart. After Jeff was discharged from the Marine Corps, he got married and had a beautiful daughter. I always appreciated the fact that Jeff worked all day, then would go and have “daddy/daughter day.”

Jeff had always wanted a daughter and I had always wanted a son. I married in 1984. My husband, Jerry, died in 1990 from diabetic complications. We had a son, Levi. Levi died tragically in a car accident in July 2007.

Everyday is a struggle without having my son. God gives you strength and peace to move forward in Him everyday. I am working, writing my first book and living life to the fullest. I had to realize even though my husband and son went to Heaven before I did, I still have goals I want to achieve before I am called home as well.

After Levi passed away, people would comment, “I can’t imagine being you.” I would tell them, “I can’t imagine being me either.” I wouldn’t trade the hardships I have gone through for anything. God knew in His strength I could walk through this pain and be victorious for Him.

***

      To send an excerpt from your own memoir, go to:
https://publishmemoir.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/to-send-us-an-excerpt-from-your-memoir/

     White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides complete editorial and book, e-book production services for self-publishing authors.

     Modern Memoirs writes and preserves clients’ memoirs and family histories in high quality books, specializing in full-length as-told-to narratives.

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MEMOIR SALON, Session 11

Sunglasses

by Alison de Groot

 

Short bio from the author: Alison de Groot is associate publisher at Modern Memoirs, Inc. She loves writing, modern dance (improvisation, KazDance, and Isadora Duncan style), and Chihuly glass sculptures. Among favorite movies: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Short description from the author: My dad is 84. (He just stopped skiing in 2013.) In this story we go to the beach together on a weekend in the summer, as we do every summer. He sits under an umbrella and reads the newspaper.

***

Sunglasses

I could write about the ocean and spazzles of sun on salty ripples on the hottest day of July, or a head-on dive into the embrace of a cool wave, or the sensation of people all around and their voices all together with radios and gulls and swishing sand. But I really want to write about my father, and leading up to the dive into the water. Because without my father, I would not be at the beach on this weekend that I take every summer with my three daughters.

When I call my father to say we’re coming, he writes it on the calendar even though I’m never sure of the date until a few days before. We really just want to stay at his house for the night and hang out at the beach all day, the three teens and I. We imagine that Grandpa Bob will never want to join us in the hot sun and crowds. But when I confirm with him—the night before—of our arrival time and plans, he says, “You’re going to the beach? Hm. I’ll go with you.” And I feel a mixture of sweet comfort and slight burden.

He goes shopping before we arrive: the cold cuts—turkey, roast beef, Swiss cheese. Iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, rye bread. Dinner—some meat thing, one baked potato each, frozen vegetable. For the kids and himself he gets 2 boxes of frozen blueberry waffles for breakfast. Makes sure the large plastic bottle of Mrs. Butterworth maple syrup isn’t getting low. Frozen bagels, English muffins, cream cheese, orange juice, and his regular grapefruit juice.

When we pull in the driveway leading up to a pale blue Cape-style house with black shutters, we see leaning up against the car his beach umbrella, camping chair, mini duffle bag, and mini red & white cooler. Dad comes out the front door and calls each person by name as he greets us with a gentler version of a bear hug, his head held back and turned slightly, with a smile. “Aleeee….” . Angelaaaa….”. “Violettttt.” “Lilaaaaa…..” He will do the very same hug for the farewells, smiling the same way, and it will sometimes feel to me, for just a millisecond, like he might not let go. But that is not so.

“I’ll drive,” he insists. “I have the in-state sticker for parking.”

We head off in his 6-speed car, and while he checks the radio and the fan, I notice that he has put on his oversized sunglasses and that there’s one lens missing. I feel that sunken adolescent embarrassment when I realize he doesn’t even notice the missing lens. I cannot, will not tell him, but after looking out my passenger window and thinking deeply about it for a few minutes, realizing there’s no way out, I finally say it. Quickly. Quietly:

“Dad, you have a lens missing!” I feel even worse now.

“Huh?” he says softly. “Gee, what happened here? Must’ve popped out. Hm. Luckily I have an extra pair with me.”

Phew. I suddenly LOVE absent-minded, dusty, musical engineers who collect clocks and cats. He has me reach into his mini duffle and get out another pair.

We drive for a half hour and then wait in an interminably long line of scorching cars all going to the one parking lot we are going to. It takes about 20 minutes to traverse one mile. He says not a word, except a few comments about how they more than doubled the fees this summer, from $7 for seniors to $14, and to $28 for out-of-staters. He retrieves a 20-dollar bill from his wallet and puts it in a crack in the dashboard long before we reach the parking lot booth.

Eventually, slowly, and finally on the beach, we spread the blankets and towels to earn our various supine, prone, and sitting positions in the sun. Next to me is the compact space occupied by my father and his things: the folding camping chair, the sunshade umbrella, a newspaper, and 2 towels. In his cooler: a thermos of icewater, 2 O’Doul’s non-alcoholic beers, 3 oranges, 1 apple. Dad sits and stares at the water most of the time. Reads the newspaper. He gets up twice to walk the long walk to the bathhouse restroom and back. He says one or two sentences in the hours that pass as imperceptibly as the revolving of the earth.

Rare sidelong glances at my father give me a funny familiar feeling. It’s the same thing that people wonder about their cats: What does he think about as he sits there?

At the end of the salty day, we head back home, and perhaps a bit sun-struck, I daringly suggest going out to eat. Unheard of for my father. He pauses, then replies.

“Hm. Well…maybe we can go to the fish place on the way home. It’s a little road off Route 1.”

I feel a grand accomplishment has just been made. I hold my breath.

“Hm, it should be on the right, coming up here,” he says.

There it is. A little fish shack, off the side of the road. I’ve never been there, though I grew up in this town. A nice shack, for locals.

Dad orders. “I’ll have fish and chips. Flounder. And a Bud.” His sheepish grin; he usually drinks the O’Doul’s.

I impulsively order $78 worth of heavenly fried fish for the famished kids and me, and as I go to pay, Dad hands me a $10- and a $5-bill.

“Here’s for my dinner, $15. Wait. Whoa, the beer costs $4! Here, let me give you a 20. Give me back the $15 and here’s a 20.

I daresay my sisters will be jealous when they hear that I got him to eat out.

***

      To send an excerpt from your own memoir, go to:
https://publishmemoir.wordpress.com/2012/10/03/to-send-us-an-excerpt-from-your-memoir/

     White Poppy Press, The Sensible Way to Self-Publish provides complete editorial and book, e-book production services for self-publishing authors.

Modern Memoirs writes and preserves clients’ memoirs and family histories in high quality books, specializing in full-length as-told-to narratives.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment